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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cut the Talk, Have a Seat, And Let the Games Begin

CHICAGO -- They have been hailed by prime ministers and presidents. They have been toasted at banquets, saluted at airports and scrutinized by all manner of armchair commentators. For the 528 players on the 24 World Cup teams, the time for talk is over. The tournament, in the United States for the first time, was set to begin Friday with defending champion Germany facing Bolivia in Chicago before a sellout crowd and much of the planet watching on television. The match was due to end early Saturday morning Moscow time. How high are the stakes? Listen to Carlos Alberto Parreira, the coach of Brazil, trying to give his country its first World Cup title in 24 years. "It's huge, unbelievable, so large I cannot describe it," said the coach of the team which will face Russia on Monday. "The whole country is mobilized. People paint the streets, the buildings and their bodies in the colors of the Brazilian flag." By the time the 31-day, 52-game, 24-team tournament has concluded, estimates are that a composite television audience of 32 billion will have followed the bouncing ball. Two billion people -- more than one in every three of the 5.6 billion people in the world -- are expected to watch the championship game at the Rose Bowl on July 17. For this World Cup, 141 countries selected "dream teams" from among their best players. The final 24 -- including automatic qualifiers Germany, as the defending champion, and the United States, as the host -- are playing for the sport's holiest grail, the five-kilogram, solid-gold World Cup trophy. Brazil, according to oddsmakers, is the favorite. But it is a gamble indeed to bet against Germany, which has been in four of the last five championship games. (AP, LAT)